Today’s post is the featured article from the October 2012 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newIt got me thinking. My good friend, Dr. Beverly Ann Smallwood, made an observation on her Facebook posting the day following the Vice Presidential debates. She simply noted the irony in how millions could watch the same exact factual event and see such different things. How? Perception she noted. There is no question that perception is a powerful force.

Perception can also be a deceptive force.

Perception drives from perspective … and perspective is often driven by our circumstances. Not to oversimplify, but I often think how the temperature on any given day can be a great indicator of this. A 45-degree day is a 45-degree day no matter what day it falls. Factually, the temperature is exactly the same … assuming winds and humidity are the same (just trying to get ahead of those of you who might be splitting hairs on this analysis!). But what we experience could be significantly different. Let’s assume one of those days falls in early September and the other one in late January. Each day will feel very different and we are likely to have very different feelings about it. Our circumstances between autumn and winter are different. This drives a different perspective creating a different perception with the same set of facts.

This truth doesn’t only apply to temperatures.

Unnoticed, it can be a fatal flaw for leaders. The problem is that sometimes it is so unnoticeable … unless we always assume the perception deception is continually in-play. And every leader needs a strategic counter-attack to diminish the blinding capability of this deception.

Sometimes this deception is fed from the outside.

It happens when we solely surround ourselves with only people who think like we do and have precisely the same viewpoints we do … whether it relates to a business strategy, political viewpoint or spiritual theological belief. When you never have a counter viewpoint coming at you, you can rest assured it is only a matter of time until you are well on your way to the deception of perception. As the pressures on business performance become increasingly short-term focused, business leaders fall into the trap of this deception. As our political rhetoric becomes louder and more divisive, politicians and every citizen fall into the trap of this deception. And the more intense the perception deception becomes, the louder we shout our viewpoint. It then becomes a vicious spiral downward into greater deception because those with other viewpoints are nowhere to be found. We have repelled every one of them! Every leader needs to be fed with counter viewpoints. These viewpoints don’t have to change our stance but they do need to test our perception. More often than not, they will fine-tune our stance.

Sometimes this deception is fed from the inside.

I firmly believe the value of core values is in the specifics. This is true individually and it is true organizationally. I am also reminded of a quote I have repeated a million times … if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Having a clear, specific and solid core is critical. Otherwise, your current stance is simply a reflection of the most recent viewpoint you’ve heard. You are like a rudderless boat tossed in the waves. Yet, it is important to remember that two people with the same core values can have very different viewpoints.

It is fully possible to misuse your solid core.

The same way we can spin-the-facts, we can likewise spin-our-core … be it knowingly or, more often than not, unknowingly. Sometimes our motives become corrupted. It may be our pride or our need to be correct that gets in the way. For some, it is simply the arrogance of thinking we have it all figured out.

I am not advocating soft cores or weak leadership. In fact, quite the opposite! Ironically, it is the soft core or the weak leader who feels most threatened by opposing viewpoints. It is precisely the deep core of strong leaders which allows them to be fully engaged in trying to understand different perspectives. It is in this engagement that they make authentic connections … and protect themselves from the deception of their own perception.

Weak leaders build themselves up by pulling others down. Unfortunately, through the filter of a perception deception, they will never see it that way. Strong leaders pull others up. It is there they find their core values most alive.

PS … If this does not ring true for you, feel completely free to disagree!!